You can be right or grow the relationship

Whether we are talking about marriage, friendships, business, or just encounters with those in proximity to us, relationships can be tested at times.  Disagreements can occur from any number of things.  We have always heard to be careful when talking about religion or politics, but now you can see heated debates on any number of issues from sports teams to educational approaches in the classroom.  We don’t have to turn on the news to witness these encounters.  We can experience them in our own lives on a regular basis if we aren’t careful.

We all have opinions and biases to a degree based on our backgrounds, affiliations, and experiences.  The problem is not in the opinion or even the bias.  The problem is often found in our response to someone with a different view on a matter.  These responses can be prompted from any number of things.

Anger: The response can be one of anger in outrage toward someone with an opposing view.  After all, if someone has an opposing view, they must be against me.  They are saying I’m wrong, and that makes me angry.

Defensive:  If someone has an opposing view, I feel like it’s a personal attack on me and my thoughts and values.  I need to defend myself.  I will do whatever is necessary to protect myself and those that believe what I believe.

Win at all costs:  It really doesn’t matter what the issue is about, I just want to win the debate.  I like to win and despise losing.  I will outlast anyone to get that victory and be proclaimed the winner.  I take great pride in my opinions and think others should pay attention.

One issue passion:  I’m all in on this one issue and nothing matters more to me than this issue.  My life resides around this issue and my position on this issue.  I will defend this one issue with my life.  Nothing or no one else matters compared to this issue.

Partisanship:  I’m just against anything they support.  It doesn’t matter what they say or do, I’m going to be on the opposite side of things just because of their affiliation.  I have prejudged them and have no need for what they are selling.  

Those are just five of many reasons that prompt us to respond negatively toward someone with a different view on a matter.  Now, some issues in life are so important that we need to take a firm position and put forth great effort to explain and defend what we see as right.  However, most arguments and debates aren’t worth the price of winning.  While we tend to focus on the “major” issues that we see on television, the ones that oftentimes do the most damage in our lives are seemingly minor issues that aren’t worth damaging the relationship.

Regardless of the magnitude of the issue, here are a few thoughts to help you navigate through disagreements and build relationships rather than win arguments.

  • Value people above the issue:  We can value the person regardless of their position on an issue.  When we value people, we don’t attack, belittle, or demean.  We listen, show respect, and maintain composure in the discussion.  Don’t worry about their response.  You value them in your approach.
  • Ask questions:  Rather than attacking with comments, ask questions to better understand why they believe they way they do.  Asking questions can diffuse tension, calm the situation, and allow us to probe for common ground on an issue.  Just ask open ended questions to better understand.
  • Common ground:  Seek out that one thing that we can agree on with the other person.  Too often we focus on differences when we should be focusing on things that we have in common.  You can often build on common ground.
  • It’s ok:  Differences of opinions should not automatically end relationships.  You can hold fast to your convictions and not have to win the debate.  It is good for us to engage with people that have different views to help us grow and strengthen our convictions.  It’s ok to be challenged from time to time.  

The next time you find yourself in a potentially uncomfortable discussion, don’t avoid the individual to avoid the encounter.  Don’t get angry, defensive, competitive, or issue focused.  Remember to value the person, ask some questions, find some common ground, and build a relationship.  Our world might just be a better place if more people took that approach.  Our relationships would surely be better!


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